Help is available when roommates can't negotiate a compromise

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Learning to get along with your new roommate is important for all new freshmen arriving at MU in August. Prior to arriving on move-in day, contacting your roommate and deciding who is bringing which items you will have to share is highly recommended by all Residential Life Staff.

College living can be overwhelming no matter where you come from.

Whether you’re used to having your own space or sharing with siblings, there’s nothing that can quite prepare you for the experience of living with someone you may have never met before.

All freshmen at MU must live in campus-approved housing, and although a few private rooms are available, sharing a room is nearly inevitable for new students.

No longer can you leave your clothes on the floor or rely on your parents to resolve conflict.  Suddenly you are responsible for both your own belongings and your own conflict resolution.

According to the Department of Residential Life, the first step toward healthy roommate relationships is open discussion.

It is up to you to make the decision to get along, and it is important to initiate conversations early.  You and your roommate may not have many things in common — you might even have nothing in common.  But this doesn’t need to be a source of dissension.

Discussing differences early on means that they won't come as a surprise later. Residential Life encourages students to remember that these differences can create vibrant relationships.

Your roommate's little quirks may be what you fondly remember years from now. 

To help guide the process, new roommates are encouraged to fill out a contract, a process that formalizes the acknowledgment of compromise over differences.

Although not compulsory, these contracts can help identify potential issues early on in the semester and reduce the chance of inadvertently creating conflict with your roommate down the road.

Roommate contracts can be obtained from a peer adviser. The contract requires each roommate to fill out answers to basic questions about study habits, sleeping routines, guests and use of personal items.

After filling in a personal contract, a set of roommates will compare and discuss the contracts before passing them on to a peer adviser.

Peer and community advisers are important people to know in your dorm.  If ever you find that you are unable to resolve a conflict alone, an adviser can help.

Advisers are fellow students trained to deal with roommate conflicts. They can help find practical solutions.

Each adviser undergoes an intensive week-long program that teaches them how to deal with a variety of potential conflicts.  The adviser acts as an unbiased third party who can offer advice and a sympathetic ear, in addition to finding solutions.

Contracts don't have to be negotiated at the beginning of the semester. Advisers are happy to organize roommate contracts at any time.

Lauren Richardson, 18, is a community adviser who has dealt with student conflicts.

“Most of the time, people yell at each other for like a week before they come to me,” she said.  “Instead they should just come to see me straight away.”

It is important to resolve problems as soon as they arise, before they get out of control. 

Ashley Huff, 20, who serves as a peer adviser, acknowledges that the process of adjusting to a roommate can be tough.

“Sometimes its kind of awkward to talk to a roommate about that stuff,” she said.

But the sooner you do it, the easier it is. 

Even if you get along with your roommate, advisers say, a student will still crave privacy occasionally.  It is important to make personal time and get out of the room on occasion.

Each dorm has kitchens, lounges and study spaces where students can hang out.  Explore campus and see if you can find your own private place to hang out on campus when you want to be alone.

Eric Hughes, 18, is a freshman who is slowly adjusting to life with his new roommate. 

“I have never had to set boundaries with my family before,” he said.

Hughes also said that getting used to his roommate has been difficult because he is used to having his own space. 

“I get along with him and he’s a nice guy, but we just have nothing in common," he said. "He’s also a bit messy.”

Hughes said he struggled in the beginning, but the situation improved after he made an effort to focus on the positive.

“My roommate listens to really good music,” he said. “I didn’t know that at first, but it’s cool that we have that to talk about now.”

Elim Oritz, 25, also had problems with his roommate. They had little in common, he said, and their sleeping patterns appeared incompatible at first.

“Then on the Fourth of July, I met his family,” Oritz recalled. “They took me out for dinner and to celebrate.  I don’t have any family in Missouri and there’s not many people at MU over summer, so I probably would have spent the night alone if he hadn’t invited me out.”

Oritz says that he and his housemate still bump heads over sleeping arrangements, but it’s nice to now know they have each other to spend time with as well.

It isn’t just your room that you will have to adjust to — sharing a common bathroom and shower area may be a first for many freshmen as well. 

Most showers have attached dressing rooms for privacy.  Just remember to bring your towel and fresh clothes into the stall with you — these can be embarrassing items to forget.

Ashley Huff said freshmen should enjoy living on campus while they can. 

“Residential housing on campus is limited. You may have to move off campus in your later years," she said.

The most important thing, advisors say, is to try to have fun. Living with a roommate is not something to be endured. It is an experience that you can make an enjoyable and memorable part of your run at MU.

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